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Successful artificial intelligence marketing relies on accurate data

Friday, August 10, 2018 - 07:00
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What makes automotive repair shop marketing effective?

That might seem like a strange way to open an article on artificial intelligence (AI) and marketing. After all, can’t we just ask a computer to tell us what makes marketing effective? But the truth, as we’ll see in a moment, is that computers are only as smart as the data they’re given to learn.

Which is why this is such a critical question to ask, and why I want to answer it up front. Effective marketing – the kind that leads to sustainable growth for a repair shop – is marketing that attracts and retains quality customers. It builds trusting relationships with loyal customers who maintain their vehicles, refer friends and family, and come back year after year.

Effective marketing isn’t measured by ROI or car count (no matter what some marketing companies tell you) or by how busy you feel (no matter how much stress it takes away), but by looking at the long-term health of the business and loyalty of your customers.

And when it comes to AI, that difference in the definition of effective marketing is like a chasm. Here’s why.

First, let’s remove some of the mystery. AI isn’t sorcery. You can’t just turn on a computer and wait for it to become self-aware. You must teach it, and it learns a little, and then you test it and teach it some more.

Think about self-driving cars and a simple stop sign. When a human is behind the wheel, they can recognize a stop sign easily. It’s got eight sides, it’s red, it says stop. If there’s graffiti or a sticker on the sign, it’s still easy to identify it as a stop sign. But if you’re a computer, and you expect a sign to be red and octagonal, say stop in white and now there’s other writing on the sign, does it still mean stop?

What if it’s dark and it’s hard to tell if it’s red? What if it’s partially behind a bush? Is half a stop sign still a stop sign?

AI is the long, drawn out process of showing a computer enough pictures of stop signs – big, small, clean, dirty, easy-to-see, partially hidden, and on and on– that the computer can recognize that simple stop sign and obey basic traffic laws.

But what happens if you teach your self-driving car that stop signs aren’t red and octagonal, but yellow, upside-down triangles? Just because the computer thinks that yield signs are stop signs doesn’t make it real. It will now make decisions based on bad data.

Which is why it’s so critical to be clear on the definitions of marketing and AI. If you teach a computer that effective marketing is based on car count, then you’re likely to get results that lead to more car count at the expense of the size of your average ticket and customer loyalty and long-term success.

We hear about the dangers of AI and how we need to be fearful of it, and this is why. In the wrong hands – trained with the wrong data or trained to look for the wrong solution – AI can destroy. If a marketing company doesn’t know how to measure the long-term effect of marketing on a business, but wants to train AI to support their marketing strategies, it will end up being deadly for the shops that take that advice.

In other words, AI isn’t a magic elixir. Indeed, there’s plenty to be wary of.

Not least of all because “Artificial Intelligence” is a marketing buzzword right now, and can be twisted to mean something as simple and basic as “we use spreadsheets and graph the data.” Real machine learning -- the kind that leads to better marketing -- cannot happen overnight. You must spend the time measuring marketing so you can teach the computer what effective marketing is and how it works.

Even more importantly, and to hammer this point home, it also takes an understanding of what makes marketing effective.

In other words, beware of anybody who promises AI-driven marketing that doesn’t have the history (and therefore the data) to make that claim possible. There’s a reason why people get degrees in statistics and mathematics to start a career in teaching a computer how to learn – it all starts with a lot of measurement.

With all these warnings out of the way, AI does mean incredible new possibilities for marketing in automotive repair shops.

Better marketing messages

We are not yet to a point where computers can start crafting marketing messages. There’s a reason why the internet is full of hilariously terrible attempts by AI to write marketing messages, movie scripts and songs: the technology is not there yet.

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